Fantasy Football Running Backs: What Went Wrong?

Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliot are featured in EPSN’s Matthew Berry’s Top 5 Running Backs, is the end truly here? This is not a piece slamming Matthew Berry nor ESPN, Yahoo! has those three players as their top 3, and Bleacher Report has them all in the Top 6. I am not even saying that Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliot are not top tier players; I am simply at a loss for words because it seems as if “the Era of Trustworthy Running Backs” is officially over. Last year as Arian Foster, Leveon Bell, Jamaal Charles, all played less than 7 games; Matt Forte, Lesean McCoy, and Eddy Lacy have fallen out of most writers top 10’s; and worst of all, the league is shifting towards having Running Back Committees rather than stars getting 30 touches a game.hi-res-fc1e24a6857eaf4be33d20f55a239566_crop_north

There will be no science behind drafting Running Backs this year, last year there were the occasional let downs that we were all instructed to draft, Tevin Coleman, Eddy Lacy, Demarco Murray, just to name a few; but this season will be mostly let downs. Put the issues with injuries and running back committees to the side for a moment, there is essentially two issues being faced, there are aging players in new situations whom you don’t know if they will produce well or not and then there are young players who looked great last year, but haven’t done much else.

Addressing the category of the Aging Players who were once trusted names in fantasy football, Jamaal Charles, maybe one of the most productive fantasy running backs ever, has struggled with injuries his entire career and will now start the season on the Physically Unable to Preform list. Demarco Murray, Matt Forte, and Arian Foster are all on new teams, in new systems, and have struggled with injuries their entire careers. The older players slated to start on some of these teams are extremely worrisome, not just to fantasy football, but to their actual teams. As a fantasy owner, are you happy with having Ryan Matthews or Frank Gore starting for you on Sunday? Not even in a Flex Spot, as your RB2 on week one, Frank Gore or Ryan Matthews are slated to be starters on teams. It’s not unfair to refer to a player like Arian Foster as aging in the NFL at 29, when most Running backs fizzle out by 30. The lifespan of Running Backs in the NFL has diminished rapidly, Fantasy Pros ranked Miami Dolphins Running Back Jay Ajayi at #32 but has fellow Miami Dolphins Running Back Arian Foster at #33. Foster was once a fantasy great, now he will be attempting to shine while splitting carries with Jay Ajayi and other running backs who always seem to sneak their way onto the field like the once relevant Isaiah Pead and Daniel Thomas.073116 spt dolphins 005

I know at this point I sound like an angry old man refusing to accept change, which is borderline accurate, I do miss the days of old watching Stephen Jackson and Marshawn Lynch take games over. Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Lesean McCoy and Matt Forte battling on the stat board to prove that they are superior; but now Charles and Foster can’t stay healthy, McCoy is splitting carries with Karlos Williams and the Bills just signed Reggie Bush, Matt Forte is joining a Jets team notorious for inconsistency at the Running Back position with Khiry Robinson, Bilal Powell, and Bernard Pierce, but Adrian Peterson is still Adrian Peterson. That is your safe running back pick this season, Adrian Peterson, real insider information.

The players last season that proved to be useful are now being displayed as Pro Bowlers. David Johnson, as a first round pick or perhaps first overall, I understand his value in a PPR league, but in a standard league pump the breaks. This Cardinals team has been cycling through Running Backs from year to year, Chris Johnson was extremely relevant last year, but is ranked 59th by Fantasy Pros and 55th by Matthew Berry out of all Running Backs. The man who once rushed for 2,006 yards in a season, Chris Johnson, only played 11 games last season but had nearly 1,000 yards on the ground but for some reason is rated lower than Wendell Smallwood and Paul Perkins, who have never taken an NFL snap. David Johnson will be splitting time with Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington (remember him?), and Stepfan Taylor; but is being held to the same standard we used to hold Adrian Peterson too. Despite only being 21, I have been playing Fantasy Football far back enough that I remember that secure feeling of drafting Adrian Peterson, Shaun Alexander, or Matt Forte, knowing that 14-15 games of the 16 game season, they will put up double digit figures and usually are good for a touchdown. Now, in order to be successful in Fantasy Football, you need to know upwards of 90 different Running Backs well. 

That is not an overstatement, Ezekiel Elliot is widely regarded as a first round pick, even though he has never played a snap in the NFL, and the Cowboys still have Darren McFadden who bounced back last year and had one of the best seasons of his career. Not only do the Cowboys have Darren McFadden, they now have Alfred Morris who has only NOT ran for 1,000 yards once in his entire career and has never missed a game in his entire playing career. But Matthew Berry has Darren McFadden ranked at 48 behind Keith Marshall (Rookie in Washington DC), and Alfred Morris isn’t even in his top 75. So tell me, is drafting a rookie with two established veterans behind him in a committee currently under domestic violence investigation in the first round something you might be interested in?  ows_14292365111367

Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman, Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram, Latavius Murray, Doug Martin, Le’Veon Bell, and maybe a few others will be immune to the committee running back problem, but even these player face  their own issues. Bell facing suspension, Doug Martin’s inconsistency, and the question of “Was it a Fluke” for Murray, Freeman, and Gurley; not even to dive into the injury implications. Teams like the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Patriots, and Titans are over saturated with Running Backs, so much so that drafting their “go-to back” would essentially be a gamble. The Tennessee Titans have Bishop Sankey, David Cobb, Antonio Andrews, Jackie Battle, Demarco Murray, and rookie Derrick Henry, six running backs who have likely been on rosters in your league, who do you draft first? The veteran? The rookie? The goal line rusher? The receiving back? Or do you avoid teams like Tennessee who have such uncertainty and then go to a team like the Bengals? Cincinnati has Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, both are ranked in most writers top 30, but who do you pick? Or do you just tough it out and draft both?

This year there is a short list of safe running backs, but we will see the dynamic of fantasy drafts shift wildly away from running backs and towards receivers and tight ends, no changes for Quarterbacks, because their stats are so inflated they are all essentially a dime a dozen. Running back uncertainty will cause players like Brandin Cooks and Greg Olsen to be Second Round Picks in 2016, this year marks the official shift in the league for Running Backs. Draft Wisely.

  • @JPetersTSR Agree or Disagree, feel free to reach out on Twitter.

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